Warriors

Pacquiao-Marquez: Close encounters of the fourth kind?

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Pacquiao-Marquez: Close encounters of the fourth kind?

Manny Pacquiao’s done, they say. The million dollar smile’s still there, but the fiery desire that has defined the larruping lefty’s rise has all but disintegrated into dust, and his failure to finish off his last few foes in typically emphatic fashion is indicative of his decline.

Or is it? While his detractors have been boasting such claims after two consecutive un-Pacquiao outings tarnished his demigod reputation, the Filipino superstar has dismissed the invective heading into Saturday’s fourth bout with Mexican archrival Juan Manuel Marquez at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas (HBO PPV, 6 p.m. PT).

“In the last fight, I took Marquez too lightly because I was the bigger man physically,” Pacquiao (54-4-2, 38 KOs) said at their initial press conference. “My focus this time is to go for the knockout.”

‘PAC-MAN’ AT THE CROSSROADS

I, too, have had my qualms about whether his recent rut is an anomaly or the beginning of the end for the 33-year-old. As someone who had Pacquiao winning their first fight in 2004 by three points (the judges had it a draw) and the second clash in 2008 by a single point (which ended up being the case), I disagreed with the official verdict of split decision for Pacquiao in their third meeting last November. Rather, I felt Marquez did enough to win by at least two points on my ringside card.

“I still think I won all three fights,” Marquez (54-6-1, 39 KOs) told Ring Magazine’s Lem Satterfield. “This fight will be another war. Everybody is going to watch another war because he knows me and I know him.”

Then there was that debacle six months ago where almost every observer and his dog thought Pacquiao had outpointed Timothy Bradley by a wide margin—only for the judges to treat the general public the way Lucy does Charlie Brown with a football.

Rather than avenge the dubious decision, however, Pacquiao opted for another go-around with Marquez, who will make him more money but further opened speculation that dollars have seized control of a career trajectory that has already taken the “Pac-Man” to title belts in an unprecedented eight weight classes—four of them true lineal championships in this era of alphabet soup.

While Pacquiao-Bradley generated about 700,000 pay-per-view buys, Pacquiao Marquez III almost doubled that figure. According to Yahoo’s Kevin Iole, Top Rank president Todd DuBoef has estimated Pacquiao’s share on Saturday to be upwards of $25 million; Marquez will also rake in a lot more than his guarantee of $3 million.

Pacquiao has insisted that this fight is more than a money grab, stating, “If I chose Bradley, it would be another one-sided fight. I don’t think the fans wanted to see me fight Bradley again.”

Throw in the extracurricular distractions of trading his late nights gambling for Bible study in hopes of resuscitating his marital life, his political ambitions as a congressman in the Philippines, as well as the fact that reported to his Hollywood training camp two weeks late, and one can reasonably come to the conclusions espoused in the initial paragraph—right or wrong.

“I want to erase the last fights and any doubt in [fight] number four,” Pacquiao said. “I will focus this time…I will fight and train like the old Manny—the 25-year-old Manny.”

Of course, keeping slim hopes alive for a Fight to Trump All Fights with Floyd Mayweather would constitute beating Marquez once and for all. It was only three years ago that Mayweather—albeit enjoying a size advantage—dismantled the Mexican great with ease, and it has served as a transitive argument in the American juggernaut’s case for his superiority to Pacquiao. (The counterpoint is that styles make fights, but that’s another article in itself.)

Thus, a decisive defeat on Saturday would further impair the already waning intrigue surrounding Pacquiao-Mayweather. Then again, a resounding knockout from the “Pac-Man” of old would rejuvenate the buzz for a bout that has been estimated to generate $160-180 million in pay-per-view gross revenue alone.

So while the burden of proof is on Pacquiao to demonstrate that he still belongs in the discussion of world’s pound-for-pound king, Marquez is out to show that he has been criminally deprived of a seat at the royal table for years.

“It seems that Manny has only one opponent every time we fight—me—while I have four—Manny and the three judges,” Marquez said in his HBO training blog.

‘JUANMA’ CONTINUES HIS AHABIAN QUEST

Though Marquez’s illustrious ledger is filled with several memorable triumphs, his inability to harpoon his pugilistic Moby Dick in three tries has defined him in the public eye. In reality, the four-division titleholder’s career has been littered with instances of hard luck, with some of it self-inflicted.

Marquez’s pro debut 19 years ago was a disaster, falling to Javier Duran by first-round disqualification. As he rebounded from that setback and started winning championship bouts in the lower weight classes, he found himself overshadowed by former stablemate Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales for the distinction of Mexico’s heir apparent to Julio Cesar Chavez.

Moreover, after furiously rallying from three first-round knockdowns to earn a draw with Pacquiao, he rejected what he considered a lowball offer of $750,000 for a 2006 rematch—only to end up controversially losing his title belt to Chris John in an Indonesian parking lot for $30,000. (I can’t make up that last part if I tried.)

He would eventually secure two more bouts with Pacquiao, but would be punished by the judges for a calculated, counterpunching approach that at varying points of their three encounters was too negative in contrast to his foe’s constant aggression. But don’t tell that to the aggrieved party.

“I still get very angry when I think about those scored being read,” Marquez said. “After two fights I felt I had won at least 19 of the 24 rounds.”

In the first fight, Marquez was overwhelmed early by Pacquiao’s speed and power, and had to dig himself out of a cavernous deficit. Then in the rematch, both judges who scored it for Pacquiao gave the Filipino rounds 3, 4, 6, 9, and 10. Almost on cue, the 12th and final frame in their third battle was Marquez’s Waterloo.

Judges Robert Hoyle (114-114 even) and Dave Moretti (115-113 for Pacquiao) rewarded the Filipino’s initiative to throw punches. On the other hand, Marquez erred by conservatively backpedaling upon heeding his cornerman Nacho Beristain’s advice that the bout was already won.

But it wasn’t, and in preparation for the fourth contest, Marquez has unveiled an impossibly sculpted physique, vowing that he won’t be taking a second off this time around. The development has raised questions about the integrity of the 39-year-old’s training methods.

Marquez’s strength coach, Angel Hernandez, has a sordid past. In 2000, as Angel Heredia, he admitted to supplying disgraced track stars Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery with performance enhancing drugs. Hernandez stated earlier this week that he’s a changed man and has been working with the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) for the past six years.

“If [Marquez’s body] is natural, I will kiss his ass,” said Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach.

At this week’s press conference, Marquez shot down the insinuations, even going as far to refer to Mayweather’s allegations last year that Pacquiao has been using illegal substances. (Pacquiao filed a defamation suit against Mayweather before settling out of court in September.)

“Before the last fight in November [2011], there had been accusations about [Pacquiao],” Marquez told USA Today’s Jonny Saraceno. “People were saying things about him, and we didn't care. We never brought it up, and we did not know anything and we didn't think that it was something. So we didn't bring it up.”

Pacquiao, who according to his fitness guru Alex Ariza is focusing strictly on boxing and not strength and conditioning for this camp, refrained from touching the subject of Marquez’s new chiseled features in depth.

“I want to put that out of my mind and give him credit for working hard, and, and if you work hard, it's not about the size,” Pacquiao said. “This is not about the size. I've been fighting the bigger guys, guys bigger than me, so it's about how you punch in the ring.”

Of course, neither fighter’s calling card during his rivalry has been the gift of gab, but rather the uncanny ability to bring out the best (and worst) out of his rival inside the squared circle. Will Pacquiao and Marquez treat Saturday like Round 37 and give us the same ebb and flow that has marked this trilogy, or will we see drastically different gameplans—and at long last, a clear victor?

“There’s no way we’re going to win a decision this time,” Roach said. “When we were sitting at the press conference, Manny scratched it into the tablecloth that we need a knockout to win, and he’s never done that before. I told him that I’m going to hold him to that.”

CSN Bay Area Boxing Insider Ryan Maquiñana is a voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and panelist for Ring Magazine’s Ratings Board. E-mail him at rmaquinana@gmail.com, check out his blog at Norcalboxing.net, or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.

What's caused Warriors' slow start and why it should come as no surprise

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USATSI

What's caused Warriors' slow start and why it should come as no surprise

It’s much too early to get legitimately nervous, much less start tumbling into a panic.

The Warriors are going to be fine.

Eventually.

They most certainly are not yet what they will become in about two weeks, when they settle in for a four-game homestand that begins Nov. 6. That’s 10 games into the season, and it’s conceivable the Warriors might be 6-4.

After a 111-101 loss to the ever-tenacious Grizzlies on Saturday in Memphis, the Warriors are 1-2 and, by their lofty standard, looking about as lost as a stray cat in a hurricane.

“We’re obviously not ready. We knew that,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We’re not ready to put together a full effort. And I’m not doing a great job of putting together combinations, finding the right motivation to get guys going, to get some joy and laughter in here.

“It’s just one of those rough patches. And, hopefully, we can climb our way out of it. I’m sure we will. It may take some time.”

It will take some time, and of that there is plenty.

Do not blame this lull entirely on China, not when there is so much more. The Warriors are coming off their third consecutive prolonged season, this one followed by the training camp disruption caused by spending eight days in Oakland, eight days in China, followed by eight days in Oakland leading up to opening night.

It’s easy to see the timing is off on an offense that relies on precision. The spacing is off on an offense that requires room to operate. The energy is lacking on a defense that lapses into ordinary without its bedrock intensity. Both body and spirit appear less than peak.

“We’ve been playing hard,” Kevin Durant told reporters at FedEx Forum, “but I think we’ve got to take it up a level.

“We’ll be fine. It’s 79 more games left. I’m sure we’ll figure it out.”

Understand, a team that won an NBA-best 67 games last season and posted a league-record 16-1 postseason doesn’t lose it because opponents load up. When the Warriors are on their game, opponents don’t matter.

For now, though, there is an individual listlessness that results in collective slumber. Stephen Curry has gambled himself in foul trouble in both losses and was booted in Memphis. Andre Iguodala missed an entire game and Draymond Green missed the fourth quarter of the first loss, a game in which the Warriors gave up a 13-point lead over the final 12 minutes.

And Durant’s 4.6 blocks per game is impressive. It also happens to be offset by his 6.3 turnovers per game.

“That’s on me,” he said. “I’m turning the ball over at a high rate right now. I’m really pissed at myself about it. I’ve just got to hold on to the ball. Just make the correct pass. I think I’m just rushing. I just need to calm down, settle down, and that would ignite the whole team. But if I turn the ball over, that’s contagious.”

The Rockets turned 17 Warriors giveaways into 21 points. The Pelicans turned 14 into 20. The Grizzlies turned 17 into 24.

Asked what has to change, Klay Thompson went to exactly the right place, saying “probably our defensive intensity from the jump.”

That’s where it starts, at least on the court. Meanwhile, there is more video work, more group texts about details and the need for more time for their bodies and minds to become one.

“We’ll be better,” Durant said. “We’re still finding a groove with each other. We’re still getting back into shape as far as playing our game, the flow, just the reads off not calling plays. We’ve got to get used to that again.”

Thompson is, however, displaying a modicum of impatience.

“We’ll come out Monday and we’ll play a great game,” he said. “I guarantee it.”

He’s probably right. The Warriors will be playing at Dallas, against a Mavericks team that is built to be devoured by the powerful.

That might be a quick fix. But it won’t be the final fix. That is weeks away.

Astros win two straight vs Yankees, advance to take on Dodgers in World Series

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USATSI

Astros win two straight vs Yankees, advance to take on Dodgers in World Series

BOX SCORE

HOUSTON -- Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers combined on a three-hitter, Jose Altuve and Evan Gattis homered and the Houston Astros reached the World Series, blanking the New York Yankees 4-0 Saturday night in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.

Just four years removed from their third straight 100-loss season in 2013, the Astros shut down the Yankees for two straight games after dropping three in a row in the Bronx.

Next up for the Astros: Game 1 of the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night. Los Angeles opened as a narrow favorite, but Houston aces Dallas Keuchel and ALCS MVP Justin Verlander will have plenty of rest before the matchup begins at Dodger Stadium.

Houston has never won even a single World Series game. The only previous time the Astros made it this far, they were a National League team when they were swept by the Chicago White Sox in 2005.

Now, manager A.J. Hinch's club has a chance to win that elusive first title, while trying to boost a region still recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

Houston improved to 6-0 at Minute Maid Park in these playoffs and became the fifth team in major league history to win a seven-game postseason series by winning all four of its home games.

Morton bounced back from a loss in Game 3 to allow two hits over five scoreless innings. Starter-turned-postseason reliever McCullers limited the Yankees to just one hit while fanning six over the next four.

Combined, they throttled the wild-card Yankees one last time in Houston. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and their New York teammates totaled just three runs in the four road games.

CC Sabathia entered the game 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 13 starts this season after a Yankees loss. But he struggled with command and was gone with one out in the fourth inning.

Houston was up 2-0 in fifth when former Yankees star Brian McCann came through for the second straight game by hitting a two-run double after snapping an 0-for-20 skid with an ground-rule RBI double to give Houston its first run on Friday night.

The Yankees, trying to reach the World Series for the first time since 2009, lost an elimination game for the first time this season after winning their first four in these playoffs. New York struggled on the road this postseason, with this loss dropping the team to 1-6.

After going 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position through the first three innings, the Astros got on the board with no outs in the fourth with the 405-foot shot by Gattis off Sabathia which made it 1-0.

Altuve launched a ball off Tommy Kahnle into the seats in right field with one out in the fifth for his fifth homer this postseason. It took a while for him to see that it was going to get out, and held onto his bat until he was halfway to first base before flipping it and trotting around the bases as chants of "MVP" rained down on him.

Altuve finished 8 for 25 with two homers and four RBIs in the ALCS after hitting .533 with three homers and four RBIs in the ALDS against Boston.

Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel hit consecutive singles after that before Kahnle struck out Gattis. McCann's two-strike double, which rolled into the corner of right field, cleared the bases to push the lead to 4-0. Gurriel slid to avoid the tag and remained on his belly in a swimming pose at the plate for a few seconds after he was called safe.

It was just the second Game 7 in franchise history for the Astros, who dropped Game 7 to the Cardinals in the 2004 NLCS 13 years ago today.

Sabathia allowed five hits and one run while walking three in 3 1/3 innings. He wasn't nearly as sharp as he was in a Game 3 win and just 36 of the 65 pitches he threw were strikes.

Morton got into trouble in the fifth, and the Yankees had runners at the corners with one out. Bregman fielded a grounder hit by Todd Frazier and made a perfect throw home to allow McCann to tag Greg Bird and preserve Houston's lead. McCann held onto the ball despite Bird's cleat banging into his forearm. Chase Headley grounded out after that to end the inning.

A night after Springer kept Frazier from extra-bases with a leaping catch, Judge returned the favor on a ball hit by Yuli Gurriel. Judge sprinted, jumped and reached into the stands to grab his long fly ball before crashing into the wall and falling to the ground for the first out of the second inning.

Springer had another nifty catch in this one, jumping in front of Marwin Gonzalez at the wall in left-center to grab a ball hit by Bird for the first out of the seventh inning.